Optimism flows at Macworld despite Jobs’ leave, competitors emerging 

The 27th annual Macworld Expo drew fewer people, but more fresh faces at the Moscone Center West on Thursday — reflecting the new, mainstream love affair with hit Apple products such as the iPhone and iPad.

Since Apple bowed out of participating in Macworld in 2009, the event has seen attendance decline from the Apple faithful, but there has been a bumper crop of neophytes walking out of the Apple Store wanting to take their gadgets further.

“It used to be some geeky people,” said comedian Sinbad, Thursday’s featured presenter, who started coming to Macworld in 1991. “It was scary.”

These days, soccer moms, pilots, 7-year-old children and folks pushing 70 crowded down the aisles looking at games, Apple accessories and third-party applications.

“It’s not just the creative types anymore,” said Rick Spillers, Hewlett-Packard’s Mac-connect product manager for 17 years. “It’s more of a mainstream company than it has ever been.”

Apple reported a profit of $6 billion in the last quarter, and announced it passed the 10 billionth downloaded-app mark Saturday. But with such success, the industry leader now has a target on its back, said Scott Schwarzhoff, the vice president of the Mountain View company Appcelerator.

More than 80 separate tablet computers will come out this year to compete against the iPad. Major phone makers such as Motorola, Samsung and HTC have lined up behind the Android operating system to take on Apple.

But even with the alarming news about Steve Jobs’ medical leave, vendors at Macworld remain bullish on the company.

“We’ve asked developers if Jobs’ health matters,” Schwarzhoff said. “It really doesn’t. The reason is there’s so many bigger issues to look at.”

Privately, Macworld attendees expressed concern, but said they believe the company’s momentum and future products — such as a possible iPad 2 and iPhone 5 — will make it the star for the foreseeable future.

“He’s proven himself to be an asset to the company, but its products are selling when he’s gone,” said Hendrik Heyrman, the vice president of sales at HyperJuice for HyperMac, a battery maker. “People will be heartbroken, but the next week, they’d forget about it. I would like to see them try to beat the iPad. I don’t think they can do it, and you can take that to the bank. The competition is just not that good.”

During his keynote speech, Sinbad said, “Everyone’s talking about an iPad killer, iPhone killer, killer this, killer that. You know what nobody’s talking about? An Android killer. Android killer? Who cares?”

But Paul Kent, the Macworld Expo president, said Apple is invulnerable.

“If the competition makes Apple go further, it improves the ecosystem. It’s good for everyone,” Kent said.

Spillers agreed, saying, “You just don’t know what they are going to come out with next month.”

Sinbad closed his address with a joke about what features the next iPhone will have.

“We can shoot movies and solve science problems, but I can’t call my momma?” he said. “The next feature on the iPhone? Reception. We’re going to get reception, because we’re going to Verizon.”



If you’re going to Macworld

Here are the most intriguing things to check out and avoid:

Must See

  • Jordan Rudess, Dream Theater keyboardist, 2 p.m. today
  • Zoe Keating, cellist and composer, 11:30 a.m. today
  • TuneUp’s Biz Markie-costumed booth babes, today-Saturday

Worth a look

  • DVGarage’s 3D Live software
  • Luxmo’s blinged-out and retro iPhone cases
  • Beats By Dre’s goofy Tron-themed headphones

Take a pass

  • Entire aisles of workplace utility applications
  • iPhone-based back-massage accessories
  • Moscone West’s convention center food

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David Downs

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